Red Wines from the Loire? Mais Oui!

When most wine drinkers think of the Loire Valley, it is whites that come to mind: those crisp, bracing wines of Muscadet, Vouvray and Sancerre. These wines are justifiably famous, so much so that many people remain ignorant of the region's surprisingly good red wines. Not only do they make fine drinking; they also come with the added advantage, because they aren't so well-known, of being extremely good value. I'll be highlighting two of them in this week's and next week's columns.

Reds represent 23% of the wine produced in the valley, with half of them based on the cabernet franc grape. This grape, which appears to be enjoying a resurgence at the moment, can be almost schizophrenic in personality. When aged in stainless steel, as most of it is in the Loire, it results in a light, fresh, and fruity wine ideal for summer drinking.

But these days a small percentage is aged in barriques, small oak barrels that yield an altogether more polished and sophisticated wine, such as this week's selection, the Chinon, Clos de l'Echo, Couly-Dutheil 2005 ($27).

Chinon, along with its neighbor Bourguil, is widely believed to produce the valley's most distinguished reds, and the Clos de l'Echo is most pleasurable proof of this assertion. It is a gloriously polished, rich, and silky wine with velvety yet robust tannins along with rich, ripe, dark fruit flavors and a full, voluptuous mouthfeel.

It intriguingly combines the rustic earthiness of a country wine with surprising elegance and charm. Best of all, it perfectly complemented the dry-aged, rib-eye steak with which I drank it.

To find this wine near you, try

When to Drink: Now and for the next 3 to 5 years

Breathing/Decanting: One hour breathing essential

Food Pairing: Steak, lamb, hard cheeses, pasta with red sauces

Grapes: 100% cabernet franc

Appellation: Chinon

Region: Loire Valley

Country: France

Price: $27

Availability: Moderate

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